Category Archives: Weird Things I Love
At the start of every spring I start dreaming of some special little spot in the backyard where I can hide and read. So far it hasn’t happened (especially since there’s still snow on the ground and it’s 11 degrees outside), but when I spotted this little Bohemian trailer on Apartment Therapy over the weekend, I knew I’d found the perfect thing. I even went so far as to see if there were any trailers listed in the ‘free’ section of Craigslist, but nothing so far. Isn’t this place amazing? What a great escape!
I know I’m a week late in sharing, but I made a special cake for my favorite holiday last Sunday. While everyone else was watching the Superbowl, I was watching a real classic. Unfortunately, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, so six more weeks of winter for us!
J’s parents are in the process of selling their house and part of that process involves purging their basement of a bunch of J’s ‘stuff’ (which, let’s be clear – when I am saying ‘stuff’, I’m being polite). Stuff from his childhood, stuff from art school, stuff that he found in a closet in our old house and has hung onto for years, like that deer hoof gun rack on the right. Admittedly some of it is my stuff, like the Raggedy Ann doll in the upper right corner of the picture, but most of it is not. A lot of it isn’t even J’s. Some of it belonged to somebody’s great something or the other and because of some incomprehensible invisible guilt, we are now the caretakers of even more stuff. There is stuff on the other side of the room that isn’t even pictured, some of which belonged to our kids when they were little and which is hard to get rid off due to the aforementioned guilt. Now all of this stuff has to be sorted and either purged or assimilated into our house. It looks and feels like we’re moving in all over again and I have actually cried over it a couple of times now. I work from home and being surrounded by all of this stuff is driving me absolutely nuts. I’m so busy and there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done, including putting all of this stuff away. There has been a bright side, however. A very happy discovery.
My mother-in-law was sitting on a mother load of Corelle dishes in my long-coveted Crazy Daisy (or Spring Blossom Green, depending on who you ask) pattern. I’ve been wanting a set of it for years to use as my everyday dishes and she didn’t even know it. They’re just her ‘old’ dishes that she had stuck in a box and left on a shelf years ago, long forgotten. These beauties have completely brightened what has otherwise been a pretty rotten month. It just goes to prove that there is always a sliver lining, or at least most of the time. You might have to dig through 17 layers of stuff to find it, though.
Today we have our first-ever guest post by J (with his tongue firmly planted in cheek).
“J” here… making a guest appearance on SSABK because I managed to construct this wonderfully creative (and thrifty) appliance that no household should be without. It’s a smoker, and yes… it’s made out of a cardboard box. I know what you’re thinking: “That is definitely a dangerous looking fire hazard that no household should have around.” While I can agree on some level with you, I must also point out that I am a man and men love fire, not fear it. We love campfires, bonfires, fireworks, firearms, firewalls and basically anything with fire involved, even if it’s just in the name. Unlike racism or politics that can be passed down through generations by example, the love of fire is a mysterious hidden gene that science has yet to discover. It’s there in all of us, I can assure you. Even though this project appears to be inspired and fueled with the testosterone levels of Charles Bronson, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Clint Eastwood combined, I’ll fully admit I got the idea from an episode of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats”. As much as I love Alton Brown, I’m certain he’s not going to be invited as a keynote speaker at a Ninja conference anytime in the near future. Then again…
The whole rig is quite simple in materials and construction. As you can see from the pictures, the basic structure is just a cardboard box lined with aluminum foil stapled on the inside. Four oak dowel rods must be inserted – two for holding a drip pan that protects the heat/smoke element, and the other two for holding the racks to place your food. You don’t have to use oak dowel rods but I figured the extra strength couldn’t hurt and I’m sure MacGyver would approve. I used heavy duty Reynolds Wrap foil too, because I’m hardcore like that. You’ll also need a hot plate, sometimes referred to as an “electric range” in more exotic regions of the globe. Here’s where things get dicey. If you have an older hot plate from days past when men didn’t wear skinny jeans and women knew their place (that was a joke – please don’t leave angry comments), you’re good to go. If you have a newer model like I’ve got, there’s bound to be all sorts of thermal protection “safety features” involved because of all the law suits that have plagued the kitchen appliance industry. The particular model I’m using appeared to be a higher-end unit that has a cast iron element, which really holds the heat. It’s an Aroma model AHP-303. Anything with 303 in the name is automatically awesome in my book because I’m a child of the Techno era and we all know and love the iconic sound of Roland’s TB-303 Bassline synth. This unit has an Access Virus sticker on it because I took off the Aroma one and replaced it. Sidetracked… Anyway, this one generates enough heat to properly smoke some fish and chicken wings without modification. I eventually ended up taking it apart to bypass the thermal regulation for MORE POWER (because that’s what Tim Allen would do) but that ended up to be not so helpful because the other plastic parts such as the plastic feet and orange light bulb were not designed to withstand full-on 1000v temperatures and started melting. I prefer to have hickory and apple wood flavors in my vittles, not burnt plastic, so I changed it back to factory specifications.
You’ll also need a small cast iron skillet to place your wood chips on. You don’t need a larger one as shown in the photos and I’ve since swapped out the larger one for a smaller one I had sitting around which actually works more efficiently. If everything is working OK you should probably be replacing your wood chips about every hour or so. You’ll know when they burn down to white ash, or close to it. It helps to have an electric thermometer you can place either on the inside of the smoker to measure ambient temperature, or place inside your thickest cut of meat to make sure it’s killing all the microscopic nasties. I prefer to measure ambient temperature because I’d hate to mangle a beautiful hunk of salmon and I’m obviously too rugged to be killed off by something so small anyways. If you can get the ambient temperature up to a sustained 160 degrees ~ (fahrenheit) you’ll make some killer smoked goodness. It takes about 4-5 hours to properly cook a batch of fish or chicken wings at that temp. If yours is heating up too much you can regulate the temperature by venting the box appropriately. Just keep an eye on it because not all meat is created equal and I’ve mistakenly made some salmon jerky. That’s great if you’re planning a backpacking trip. Not so great for a dinner party. But dinner parties can always segue into a poker game or even better… a bonfire.
Thanks, J! Please note that if you’re interested in making one of these smokers there are numerous youtube videos giving detailed instructions. Just search for ‘cardboard smoker’ and you’ll find lots of information out there.
I’d also like to point out that we’ve since acquired this combination grill and smoker off Craigslist for one-third of it’s current retail price at Home Depot but J is also still smoking away in his cardboard box.